LAWRENCE — Around the world it is often difficult to build big projects — bridges, highways and more — without greasing a few palms. But members of the civil engineering profession should resist participating in such petty corruption, says one prominent University of Kansas School of Engineering alumnus.
“We have managed to avoid being involved in corrupt processes,” said Gregs Thomopulos, chairman of the board of global engineering firm Stanley Consultants, and a 1965 KU civil engineering graduate. “It started with the top leader of our company saying, ‘We’re not going to do it.’ And that was put out to every manager in the company. Maybe we lost some jobs, but we sleep better.”
Thomopulos will give his expanded thoughts on the topic at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 3 in Eaton Hall’s Spahr Classroom during the annual J.A. Tiberti Family Lecture. The lecture was begun in 2011 through a generous contribution from members of the Tiberti family to the KU Department of Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering. Topics focus on ethics, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and issues for the education, personal growth and professional development benefit of students.
Thomopulos will speak on the topic of “Integrity and Ethics in International Infrastructure.”
Maintaining integrity isn’t always easy, he said.
“Of all the sectors, the engineering and construction industry is the second-most-corrupt in the world. The most corrupt is in the defense industry,” he said.
Why? Because the items built by civil engineers are often big and expensive and thus prove a tempting target for officials who’d like to take a bribe. “That lends itself to corruption in the procurement process,” he said. “There are very few countries in the world where you don’t have these problems.”
Some firms might regard those bribes as simply the cost of doing business, but Thomopulos notes that the United States has a law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, that can fine and penalize companies for engaging in such behavior overseas.
“It’s a very expensive proposition,” Thomopulos said.
Thus the need to emphasize, from the top of a company, the need to behave ethically and with integrity. “We cannot rest on our laurels,” he said.
Thomopulos maintains a close relationship with KU. He received the Distinguished Engineering Service Award in 2002 and currently serves on the School of Engineering’s Advisory Board and the KU Endowment Board of Trustees.
“Well, I was born in Nigeria. I came to the U.S. in 1962 on a scholarship. As part of that program, KU gave me free tuition,” he said. “I always appreciated the help and support I got from KU that made it possible to have success in my career.”
“I want to help out, because I was helped,” he said. “I have a very soft place in my heart for KU."